MIRIAM O’Callaghan is in pole position to take over from Pat Kenny as host of The Late Late Show, according to senior RTÉ sources.
Despite bookies having named Ryan Tubridy as their favourite to win the hot seat, highly placed Montrose insiders say the 49-year-old Prime Time presenter seems certain to get the job.
This suggestion gained further credence when it emerged last night that Miss O’Callaghan’s husband Steve Carson, recently appointed head of programmes at RTÉ, has asked not to be involved in the selection process.
The head of programmes would normally have the biggest say in the appointment, but a Montrose insider said: ‘To avoid any potential conflict of interest, Steve has said he does not want to have any involvement whatsoever in the decision to appoint a successor.’
The fact that he has opted out of the process is the strongest indication yet that O’Callaghan intends to put herself forward – and other senior RTÉ figures have said she is now all but guaranteed the most prestigious job in Irish television, host of the longest-running show of its type in the world.
The success of her chat show, combined with her hard news experience on Prime Time and the BBC’s Newsnight, are thought to have given her the edge over Tubridy, who is considered a lightweight on current affairs.
The big question now is whether female viewers, on whom the Late Late has traditionally relied, would prefer a male presenter. Speaking for the first time since he announced live on Friday’s show that he was going at the end of the current series, Pat Kenny insisted nobody asked him to leave – and hinted that he would not take a further pay cut.
The veteran broadcaster – who is to host a Monday night current affairs programme in the autumn – insisted that the decision to leave was all his own, despite suggestions last week that senior figures wanted him out.
‘I said I could not see myself doing the Late Late for five more years,’ he said.
‘That put a process in train. I signalled (I wanted to go) by probably 2010. Then they came back to me and said there is a particular thing (RTÉ) are doing in the autumn of 2009 and I’m delighted they thought of me.’
Kenny also suggested that he would not be taking a further pay cut despite giving up the Late Late in favour of a political programme which is all but bound to attract a smaller audience.
‘I negotiated my contract at a time when this thing was going to evolve so I can’t talk about any aspects of the contract, which are confidential, but they were all built in. ‘The 10pc that I offered back to RTÉ was an addition, over and above the contract, but the contract was negotiated bearing in mind all the current economic travails of RTÉ and the marketplace generally.’
He also said members of the team behind the show – which regularly attracts more than 555,000 viewers – were ‘delighted’ he is moving on. And, in a reference to Friday’s shambolic appearance by EastEnders star Letitia Dean, he said: ‘It will be with some relief that I won’t be interviewing soap stars any more.’
As to a successor, he said: ‘There’s a list of runners, probably no more than about a dozen people, who have been mentioned and they’re all kind of pals of mine, but it would be disingenuous of me to say one thing or another.’
Last night, Kenny’s wife, Cathy, said: ‘It was an emotional decision, you know. Last night was very emotional with his team. The hardest part I think for him was telling them. At least now I’ll have him on Friday nights while I’m still young enough to enjoy him.’
The list of Kenny’s potential successors could well include Gerry Ryan, Patrick Kielty, Craig Doyle, Gráinne Seoige and Ray D’Arcy, but there was little doubt that O’Callaghan’s name is – despite what the bookies say – the RTÉ favourite. An unnamed but high-profile Montrose source said it was common knowledge that O’Callaghan wanted to leave Prime Time and was ‘chomping at the bit’ to do the Late Late .
Speaking on condition of anonymity, the source said: ‘Kenny’s decision to move on is just the opportunity Miriam has been waiting for. ‘She has been agitating to get out of current affairs and her colleagues at Prime Time are not thinking what they will do IF she leaves – it’s a matter of WHEN she goes.
Nobody has tipped her the nod, as far as I know, but Miriam has made no secret of her desire to host the Late Late.’ The show’s original and longestserving presenter, Gay Byrne, who admitted he knew about Kenny’s departure from around January – refused to be drawn on who he favours to take over .
But last night he said: ‘I wish the best of luck to whoever wants the job. but personally I think it is a great opportunity for someone who is new to broadcasting.’
The show’s future is assured but it desperately needs to attract a sponsor, which is believed to be one of the reasons Kenny’s resignation was accepted. But they are considering a new format. They will commission market research on who people would most like to see on their screens.
Researchers are also reexamining the show’s demographics. It has traditionally been a favourite of people in their 50s and 60s. Paddy Power is offering odds of 2/1 on Tubridy getting Kenny’s slot, with Miriam O’Callaghan in second place at odds of 3/1 and 2fm motormouth Gerry Ryan in third place at 8/1.